In 1951, the FBI Thought the Soviets Might Be Hiding an Atomic Bomb Somewhere in New York City

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Image via Wikimedia Commons
Fat Man, the atomic bomb detonated over Nagasaki by the United States in 1945.
In the incredibly overheated, paranoid environment of the Cold War, anything seemed possible. Senator Joe McCarthy saw Communists hiding in every broom closet, Julius and Ehtel Rosenberg were executed as spies -- although the evidence we have today suggests that Ethel, at least, wasn't guilty of anything of the sort -- and the Federal Bureau of Investigation launched COINTELPRO, a series of covert actions spying on and disrupting various political organizations, including civil rights leaders and Vietnam war protesters. In 1951, according to a recently declassified FBI file, the agency also became convinced that an atomic bomb built by the Soviet Union could be hiding somewhere in New York City, waiting to be detonated. After receiving a rather flimsy tip from an unnamed informant in Brazil, the FBI spent several years quietly looking for the bomb.


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Mauna Loa Has Challenged Adventurers for Centuries

Categories: History, Travel

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Alex Sverdlov
The unpredictable weather conditions near the summit have challenged hikers for centuries.
This week's feature story, Over the Volcano, details 36-year-old New Yorker Alex Sverdlov's adventure gone wrong on Mauna Loa, a massive Hawaiian volcano. After Sverdlov reached the summit on the third day of the hike, an unexpected storm hit the mountain with freezing temperatures, 50-mile-per-hour wind gusts, and a foot of snow. Sverdlov would be stranded 13,000 above sea level for the next two days.

He lived to tell the tale, adding his own name to a centuries-old list of adventurers who have taken a punch from the world's biggest volcano.

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The Prototype for Citi Bike Was Invented By Monk Eastman, A Pigeon-Loving Gangster From Williamsburg

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Image via Wikipedia
Monk Eastman, circa 1910-1920
Earlier this month, Citi Bike announced that its bike renters had taken over 5 million rides. And while they're certainly the biggest name in the bike rental game today, if they were operating 100 years ago, they'd have some stiff competition from Monk Eastman, an eccentric Brooklyn-born gangster who ran one of the earliest, most successful bike shares in the city's history, when he wasn't busy hoarding animals, beating people up, or smoking copious amounts of opium.

Eastman was reputedly born Edward Osterman in Williamsburg, Brooklyn around 1873 (although some accounts contend he was born in Corlear's Hook, now a park area on the Lower East Side). He loved cats and pigeons, so much so that his father, a Jewish restaurant owner, helped set him up with his own pet shop.

But the pet store game failed to excite him, and he left in the mid-1890s to become a bouncer (or "sheriff", as they were then known) at the mammoth New Irving Dance Hall. Eastman sounds like he was a real looker in his prime, according to a description of him in Low Life, Luc Sante's classic book about the seedy underbelly of turn-of-the-century New York:

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How the Voice Reported JFK's Assassination 50 Years Ago

Categories: History

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John F. Kennedy was shot at 2 p.m. on a Friday. The Village Voice came out on a Thursday in those days, which meant the staff had close to a week to gather their thoughts about the assassination of the president, and the subsequent assassination of his alleged assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald.


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Mobile Game Lets You Experience 1909 Garment Worker Uprising in Washington Square

Categories: History, Labor

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Kheel Collection/Cornell
Photo of Rose Schneiderman, labor organizer.
Before it housed NYU students with smoothies and laptops during the workday, the Asch Building on Washington Place was known as the Triangle Shirtwaist factory. Two years before the fire that scorched Triangle Shirtwaist's name into history, the women toiling away inside--mostly Jewish and Italian immigrants--had already decided they were fed up with poverty wages, dangerous working conditions, and sexual harassment.

Meeting in the Cooper Union's Great Hall in November of 1909--the same room in which Mayor Bloomberg delivered the class of 2013's commencement speech last week--garment workers voted to strike, and over the next several days, 20,000 people walked off the job at Shirtwaist and other major manufacturers.

Now, local iPhone and iPad users can travel back in time to the golden age of Jewish labor organizing through a game called "Jewish Time Jump: New York."

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The Emancipation Proclamation (Or What's Left of It) Is In Harlem Right Now!

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In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln was torn: with the War Between the States raging, the clarion call to free the slaves was louder than ever. However, to do so, Lincoln feared a backlash from his own Union forces, who were more concentrated on the rebels then the abolitionists. In the end, the 16th President of the United States of America decided to take the higher moral ground, turning the crisis into a true war for liberty, and this culminated in what is now known as the Emancipation Proclamation.

Fast forward 150 years. Although the original printed document was burnt to ashes in the Great Chicago Fire decades ago, its historical prominence and pride lives on. And so does preliminary versions of the Proclamation. So, for its century-and-a-half birthday, you can go check out the piece of paper that freed millions from bondage until Monday in Harlem.

At the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture on Malcolm X Boulevard, the last remaining copy of the Proclamation hand-written by Lincoln himself will be on display, alongside a preliminary copy of the document that justifies the Constitutional foundation of the decree. In the words of Khalil Gibran Muhammad, the Center's Director, "In 150 years, these documents have not sat next to each other since they were in the presence of President Lincoln."

You can almost hear the buzzing of history nerds from here. Don't worry - we're as excited as you are.

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The Anti-Vaccine Movement: A Brief History

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A few days ago, we wrote about the U.S. whooping cough outbreak -- which is the worst in 50 years.

Pertussis can prove deadly to infants and toddlers, but healthy adults aren't likely to succumb to this illness. (However, it's still a good idea to get a booster shot! Details here.)

Whooping cough cases have outright ballooned in Washington; state health authorities actually declared epidemic status earlier this year, there has been a 13-fold increase in diagnoses since 2011.

Washington -- though home to a lot of highly-educated, tech savvy people -- is also the epicenter of the U.S. anti-vaccination movement. Over the last few decades, more and more parents there have opted out of inoculating their kids against preventable illnesses. As some 90 percent of any population must be inoculated for vaccines to work -- AKA "herd immunity" -- many are blaming Washington's anti-vax camp for spurring the disease's spread.

Of course, this brings up some questions: What the hell is the anti-vax movement, anyway? Where does it come from and, perhaps most importantly, why don't people want to protect their kids?

To answer your queries, we've prepped a brief history...

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It's the First Anniversary of the Marriage Equality Act Passing and the Weather is Perfect: Happy Pride Sunday!

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Our perch in the NY Senate when the Marriage Equality Act passed one year ago today
One year ago today, we had the chance to travel to Albany for our first and only day of reporting there.

As days of political reporting go, it did not disappoint. On arrival, the halls were filled with passionate protesters: those demanding that gay and lesbian people not be allowed to "sully" the tradition of marriage, and those demanding marriage equality. At times, both were using religious chants to drown each other out, their singing voices ringing off the marble capitol building's hall and echoing far away.

Over the long hours of the day, rumors abounded that there were more than the two declared Republican state senators to vote for the Marriage Equality Act. At least one was needed for it to pass.

Finally, we got word that a bill was being printed, even though we didn't know if the votes were there for it to pass. As press, we could be on the floor with the Senators, in the South gallery (with the Human Rights Campaign's paid seat fillers) or in the North gallery (with activists who'd gotten arrested demanding marriage equality, often to the chagrin of Gay Inc., like Ben Strothmann/Honey LaBronx, Natasha Dillon and Jake Goodman).

We chose to sit in the North gallery.

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The Stonewall Stop and Frisk Summit - Or, Al Sharpton, Chris Quinn and the NAACP Walk Into a (Gay) Bar...

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Steven Thrasher
Front row L to R: Speaker Quinn, Stuart Appelbaum/RWDSU, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum/CBST, Sharon Stapel/AVP at podium; Ben Jealous/NAACP, Rev. Al Sharpton/NAN, Marty Rouse/HRC, George Gresham/SEIU

An historic coalition of traditional race-oriented civil rights organizations, labor unions, and LGBT groups met yesterday at the Stonewall Inn to endorse the upcoming SIlent March to End Stop and Frisk on Father's Day, June 17. The "press conference" featured an impressive roster of speakers -- including the Rev. Al Sharpton, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and NAACP President Benajmin Jealous -- and had anyone wanted to wipe out nearly every LGBT leader in the city, they could have done it with one strike.

But as historic as it was to see "Gay Inc" standing alongside black civil rights groups at the location where the Stonewall Riots kicked off the gay rights revolution four decades ago, there was one inconvenient truth which the event did not acknowledge. In fact, when the Voice even asked about this -- that the assembled were joined to fight a policy which belongs primarily to Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is a very close ally of several of the speakers, particularly Speaker Quinn, and also the Human Rights Campaign, who honored Mayor Bloomberg last year -- it brought the "press conference" to a hasty end. (Like most events we cover, it was expected by organizers that the speakers would talk at us and we journalists would transcribe whatever they said and repeat it without question.)

Still, it was one of the most unusual events we've covered, and a hearteningly significant one at that.


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Hundreds of Years of New York City History Now Online in Massive Photo Archive

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Eugene de Salignac, Department of Bridges/Plant & Structures
From October 7, 1914. Brooklyn Bridge showing painters on suspenders.
Hundreds of thousands of photos that offer snapshots of more than a century of New York City history are now publicly available online for the first time ever.

Together, they offer a close-up, gritty picture of the city's history and development, from detective photos of gruesome crime scenes to Depression-era shots of everyday life to the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge.

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